The students’ expressions run the full gamut of what you might expect in a high school health class on the topic of sex trafficking. Some look half asleep. Others are naively, preciously, shocked. A few look like they might take up the banner and act. But there are always one or two who know too much already. I can see it in their eyes.
They come up to me after. Always. She has a friend who models…
She has a friend who moved in with an older boyfriend…
She was raped by a guy who used all the lines I talked about…
She met a guy online and when they met face to face he was 57…
I want to hug them and take them with me, pack them into my box of fliers and posters and get them to safety. I preach prevention, but I am always too late. For at least one.
I am new to this high school and scheduled to be in three classes throughout the morning. Rather than struggling with wifi or leaving campus, I wander the halls to waste time. It’s lunchtime when I dodge groups clustered on hallway floors, pairs who have awkwardly found each other. It’s been awhile and I am desperately thankful high school is long in the past, full of gratitude that my own son has a hallway group.
Students are everywhere. I return to class.
There are too many unknown stories among them to disclose the real vulnerabilities. I can’t tell a classroom of kids that the ones I’m most concerned about have absentee fathers, parents dependent on substances, abuse in their background, or are already living with someone besides Mom and Dad. I can’t say that the girls who think having a boyfriend and being a sex object equals value worry me or that the boys who think aggression and control equal sexy are problematic.
I can’t because they are sitting there in front of me.
Mostly, I tell them what to look for in their friends. I say the obvious things. The red flags. But I don’t say the precursors. I don’t forewarn and prophesy. But I could.
Because I saw her in these walls.
When I walked through the halls at lunch. After I passed the boys beneath the stairwell and the Spanish speakers in the food court. When I climbed the stairs and passed the elevator, I saw her. Sitting there.
She has been abused since childhood. Her abuser is gone, but the wounds remain. Physical boundaries have already been crossed so she’s more susceptible to the lines. She believes the lies media has told her: her body is the ticket to really living. Her clothing and demeanor tell the story. The problem is that there is no one to give her a counter story. No one in her life suggesting an alternate reading.
I weep on her behalf and tell Jesus about her. Alone in the car, he reminds me that long before I saw her, he saw her. And sees her still.
El Roi. God sees.
Hagar gave him that name and I wonder, how did she feel when she was exploited? How did she feel when she became a servant in Abram’s household? When Sarai sent her to have sex with the master of the house? And how did Sarai feel when Abram lied to save his own life, giving her over to Pharaoh’s harem in exchange for livestock and servants?
Yeah. Sex trafficking has been going on for a long time.
But God sees. And not only do I cling to this, but I long for his counter story. Lord, show me the narrative you are writing and let me see, if briefly, how it relates to girls in halls. May I hold the alternate reading in my life and theirs.
Beth Bruno fights domestic sex trafficking in Colorado where she lives with her husband and 3 children. She facilitates the Fort Collins Anti-Sex Trafficking Community Response Team, is the co-author of END: Engaging Men to End Sex Trafficking, and developing an integrated arts trafficking prevention curriculum through her non-profit, A Face to Reframe. She writes at bethbruno.org and is a proud member of the Redbud Writer’s Guild.
Thank you, Beth. It felt like I was walking the halls with you. I love what you notice and that your eyes see the possibilities of trafficking. Your heart’s lean is for good. You know the other possibilities. I am grateful for you and the work you are doing. May you continue with God’s blessing.
Thank you Mary Jane.
“But God sees”…. I am grateful, Beth, for your calling to the exploited. Thank you for the sacrifices you make to walk the halls and open your home and get the word out. Thank you that your passion takes you to the “kids”. Thank you.
Your writing is simple and concise, yet it paints a vivid and difficult image we all need to see. Thank you for sharing.
My two children are in high school and so reading your story today was a bit jarring. I wonder about kids they know and see, especially my daughter. She is drawn to those who are withdrawn. Thank you for this glimpse into the important work you do. May your light continue to shine into the darkness, and to overcome it.
I believe that while youth are the most vulnerable to being trafficked, they have the most power to bring change. Empowered with a little education, they can be the eyes and ears among their peers in ways we will never be. May your daughter be that in the halls of her school!
Thank you for sharing this story with us Beth. I am glad you are following your calling, I am glad you are a life giving presence in the halls of the schools you visit, and that you have eyes to see. Bless you.